OAKLAND -- A West Oakland gang member involved in the killing of two revelers and the shooting of five others at the now-defunct Sweet Jimmie's bar and restaurant almost two years ago will have to stand trial on special circumstances murder, a judge declared Wednesday.
Although Lamar Fox, 23, didn't fire the assault rifle used in the shooting, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Gloria Rhynes ruled that there is enough evidence to prove Fox was intimately involved in the crime.
The shooting occurred in the early morning hours of April 25, 2011 after Fox and three fellow gang members had a brief confrontation with members of a rival gang in front of the Nation's Giant Hamburger restaurant at 317 Broadway. During the confrontation, a rival gang member flashed a gun at Fox prompting him to urge his fellow gang members to leave the scene and retrieve the assault rifle, evidence in the case revealed.
Upon returning to the scene, Fox and his fellow gang members began searching for the rivals and attempted to enter Sweet Jimmie's. Fox got into an argument with a man at the entrance to the bar at which point his fellow gang member, Clem Thompkins, 24, began shooting the assault rifle toward the front entrance of the establishment.
Thompkins killed Billy Jenkins, 26, and Adam Williams, 22. He also wounded five others as they attempted to duck for cover as bullets screamed from the large military-type rifle.
Thompkins is also charged with committing two murders and five attempted murders and currently awaits a jury trial. He is also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole after Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley decided not to pursue the death penalty.
Fox, who admitted his involvement in the crime during a videotaped police interrogation, was charged with the same crimes in September 2012 after he refused to testify against Thompkins during a preliminary hearing.
Fox currently faces the death penalty, but it's likely O'Malley will not seek it and instead Fox will face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Under state law, a defendant who participates in a murder can be charged with the crime even if that defendant is not the person who shoots the gun.
Deputy District Attorney Ben Beltramo argued that Fox fit that description. He was the person who initiated the confrontation with the rival gang, urged his fellow gang members to get a gun and then began the argument in front of Sweet Jimmie's that eventually led to the shooting. In addition, evidence shows, the gun used in the crime was found by police at Fox's home during a search after the killings.
"He directly aided and abetted in this crime," Beltramo said. "Mr. Fox's own words provides the entire foundation to find him guilty of these crimes.
"Mr. Fox aptly described this crime in his statement when he said it was a massacre," Beltramo added.
Fox's attorney, John McDougall, argued that his client should not be charged with murder because he did not know that Thompkins was going to shoot the assault rifle into the crowded bar.
McDougall pointed to one part of Fox's confession during which he told police that he simply wanted to get into a fist fight with the rival gang members.
But Beltramo argued that given Fox was a gang member and because he urged his fellow gang members to retrieve the gun, there was a reasonable expectation that the gun would be used to shoot people.
Rhynes agreed as she ordered Fox to stand trial on the eight felony charges filed against him.
"If you're going to fight someone with a fist, then why would you go and get a gun," Rhynes asked at one point. "It's a very strong likelihood that a jury will convict him of all these crimes."
And in an unusual move, Rhynes took the opportunity in her order to implore the city's youth to stop killing each other.
"I can only hope that somehow the trajectory of what is going on now will change," Rhynes said of the violence that is plaguing Oakland. "It has to or else there is no hope, and I will never believe there is no hope."